Asian American and Pacific Islander college students are not exactly the first group that comes to mind when thinking of those underserved in higher education.
But a closer look reveals that certain segments of our community are indeed being overlooked. While over half of Indian Americans had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2000, fewer than 10 percent of Hmong, Laotian and Cambodian Americans had a college degree. While 24.4 percent of the overall population over the age of 25 had a college degree, only 13.8 percent of Pacific Islanders had at least a bachelor’s degree. Disparities in educational attainment exist within AAPI ethnicities themselves, because of factors such as income level and immigration history.
These underserved AAPI subgroups have long been ignored due to the widespread assumption that AAPIs are a monolithically successful population.
In 2007, Congress passed legislation, introduced by Oregon Congressman David Wu in the House of Representatives, to give federal funding to Asian American and Pacific Islander-serving institutions. Institutions with at least a 10 percent enrollment of AAPI students, a certain threshold of low-income students and lower than average educational and general expenditures per student are now eligible to participate in a yearly competitive grant process for funds that will contribute to the recruitment and retention of underserved AAPI students. Six colleges and universities were recently designated AAPI-serving institutions, as Rex Feng reports in this issue.
This is undeniable progress, but we must keep a vigilant eye on a few things to ensure its success. Although the program is authorized until 2013, its future sustainability is uncertain. Little infrastructure exists for the advocacy and lobbying for AAPI needs in education, in contrast to other minority communities. The question remains of whether institutions that have a great capacity to serve traditionally underserved AAPI subgroups will benefit. For example, a number of these institutions in states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota do not meet the 10 percent AAPI student enrollment requirement.
But for now, we will continue to eagerly watch the progress of this monumental event in AAPI educational history — the first federal designation to specifically address the needs of AAPIs in education.